It will be at least two weeks before Bishop Anthony Bosco of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg announces a decision about whether to permanently remove from ministry an unnamed priest who has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor more than 20 years ago.
A five-person diocesan review board, consisting mostly of laypersons with expertise on child sexual abuse, met late Wednesday to consider the case. The panel made a recommendation but will not tell Bosco what it is until the accused priest has an opportunity to present his own case to the bishop with the aid of a canon or civil lawyer, said the Rev. Roger Statnick, vicar general of the diocese.
The priest has 15 days to make his case before Bosco hears the board’s recommendation and makes a decision. Meanwhile, the priest is on temporary leave.
Earlier this week the diocese announced that it would permanently ban from ministry another unnamed priest.
Last month the U.S. bishops adopted rules requiring them to remove from ministry any priest who has used a minor for sexual gratification, even in cases that do not meet the criminal definition of sexual abuse. The bishop may ask the Vatican to laicize the priest — meaning he could marry and would no longer be on the diocesan payroll. Or the bishop can put the priest on permanent administrative leave, meaning he may not dress as a priest, call himself “Father” or celebrate Mass for anyone but himself, although canon law requires that he receive a diocesan stipend.
Statnick said the diocese has examined eight cases so far this year. Two active and two retired Greensburg priests have been permanently removed from ministry as a result of molestation allegations stemming either from a review of old files or from victims coming forward in the wake of publicity about priest sexual abuse scandals in Boston and elsewhere.
According to Statnick, all of the accusations concern incidents that occurred 20 to 40 years ago, and some accusations against dead priests go back 60 years. Although Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck is reviewing the cases, there have been no charges filed. The Pennsylvania statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases expires on the victim’s 23 rd birthday.
In February an individual came to the diocese with a complaint against a Greensburg priest then serving as a military chaplain, and a check of his file revealed further troubling information, Statnick said. The priest was placed on temporary leave while the case was investigated, and in April he was permanently banned from ministry.
A full review of files from the tenure of the late former Bishops William Connare and Hugh Lamb resulted in flags on three active and three retired priests. One of the active priests was the one whose case was reviewed Wednesday night, Statnick said. Two allegations against active priests were dismissed as too old and too vague to act on, Statnick said.
In one of those cases, the diocesan investigators found that the person the priest was accused of somehow harming was not a minor at the time. Another allegation from 1962 concerned “an unclear accusation about a relationship with a seminarian who was dismissed from the seminary, but neither the name of seminarian nor the nature of the accusation was disclosed,” Statnick said.
Two of the retired priests were banned from conducting ministry and the third case was dismissed. ‘There was an anonymous letter in the file with a very vague complaint that the priest was ‘running around’ with a minor. There wasn’t enough substance to pursue it,” Statnick said.
An eighth priest, who earlier this week was permanently banned from ministry, was brought to diocesan attention after the old file review was complete, Statnick said. There had been nothing in his file that looked suspicious.